Pervasive Media Studio

Located at the centre of Bristol, the Pervasive Media Studio is a 100-person strong community of creative digital innovators engaging in multidisciplinary research and development. Spanning artists, technologists, makers, product designers and storytellers, the Studio hosts a range of projects that, in the words of Studio producer Victoria Tillson, “look beyond what exists at the moment” and helps to “break research out of universities”.  

The Studio is a joint project between the University of the West of England, University of Bristol and Watershed, a social enterprise combining cinema, cafe/bar and event space. It’s interdisciplinary approach to ‘pervasive media’ creates a wide and diverse project base that span citizen-led interplanetary space exploration, playable cities, digital-physical experiences and independent and immersive documentary making. The Studio’s projects span a number of broad areas that include: context aware experiences, media in public spaces, UCG, mobile gaming and performance. These areas interface with local and international communities, commercial and other organisations, and seek to explore research and digital interaction development opportunities that are firmly located in the real world. It’s philosophy is one of open, interdisciplinary and community-led innovation. 

Methods and approaches 

Openness and collaboration permeate the Pervasive Media Studio. Rather than a research centre that employs paid staff, many of the studio’s residents are not directly employed by the centre, and instead are offered a free desk and access to facilities as a result of their work and ideas.

“We have an open rolling invitation on our website where people can get in touch and apply to be here with an idea they have.. Other people may end up here through another programme we run as we support people to develop new or risky ideas that people don’t necessarily know are going to work but need some time and space to be able to test things out and bounce ideas of people in the Studio.”  

The relationship with the studio as a whole is based around ‘interruptibility’ and sharing. Residents can be asked to chat about their work at any point to other residents or whoever may be visiting.”

Located in the city centre and Watershed’s cafe bar and cinemas, residents are continually engaged with the community and underpinned by a ‘gift economy’, which incorporates both residencies within the Studio, and how the Studio itself engages with the wider community. 

Most ‘residents’ do not pay for desk or are employed directly by the Studio – and can work on current or develop new projects. Instead, they are invited to take a space. From there, they receive support of Studio Producers to develop projects and realise ideas. Members of studio include individuals, academics, SMEs and commercial organisations. 

Industry collaboration  

From a news media perspective, the Pervasive Media Studio has close links with the BBC, which is based right on their doorstep in Bristol, which hosts a number of operations, including the broadcaster’s Natural History Unit. However, the dynamic of this relationship follows the centre’s overarching approach: the BBC are one member of a community.

Individuals within the studio also have their own connections, and, with a culture of prototyping and product development, new commercial organisations emerge from the R&D work.

Key projects

Although the Pervasive Media Studio has few links with newsdesks or newsrooms, from a news media perspective, there are a number of projects that could be of interest to news media publishers 

Quipu: A ‘transmedia’ project and interactive documentary that told the story of 272,000 Peruvian women who had been sterilised as part of government policy, sometimes forcibly or without full consent. Quipu provides a framework for these stories to be revealed through radio, interactive digital documentary and a specially developed telephone line that provides a link with women in often remote and rural areas. 

Newstori: Coming out of the REACT Hub at the Pervasive Media Studio, and a collaboration between the Cardiff School of Journalism and creative agency Behaviour, Newstori explores sustainable platforms for hyperlocal journalism, and motivations for citizen journalists. 

Nth Screen: Specialising in video mosaics, Nth Screen allows multiple users to generate and contribute to multi-perspective video montages. 

Beyond the focus of news, other projects point towards innovative digital interactions. Hello Lamp Post uses the physical infrastructure of the city to allow people to communicate and leave messages for one-another, the physical-digital exploration project Mayfly allows users to capture sounds and link them to pages of a physical book and Pocket Spacecraft helps people to launch their very own citizen solar explorer, and monitor its progress with a digital infrastructure. 

Funding 

The Pervasive Media Studio is underpinned by funding from the founding organisations: the University of the West of England, University of Bristol and Watershed. However, there are some additional funding streams that the Studio as a host has accessed, alongside myriad of other funds residents have accessed. 

The UK’s Research Councils – both arts-led and engineering-focussed – support the studio in a number of ways, and the recently completed REACT Hub, which was one of four centres in the UK designed to unite researchers with creative business to prototype new concepts and ideas. A four-year project between 2012, the initiative focussed on books and print, future documentary, feasibility, heritage and objects. This network has spawned just short of £5m in additional research and investment funding.

Due to the diverse project based, other public funding organisation such as the Arts Council and the range of financial support that is available to SME spin outs. Residents may also have their own funding to the projects they’re working on. 

Future Challenges 

Victoria Tillson suggests there are a range of challenges for the Pervasive Media Studio – these span shrinking funding opportunities and maintaining the energy and creativity of the projects that emerge from the studio. She explains that this freshness is essential in meeting the needs of the audience. One solution to this is further develop participatory models of engagement and design. 

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